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Continual Improvement: Clear the Bench

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Oct 30, 2014 10:49:00 AM

shutterstock_59989906The MLB World Series is in full swing, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’ve got baseball on my mind. A few weeks back, Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants, hit the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig with a pitch on the ankle. Puig was down on the ground for a bit before he got up and charged toward Bumgarner. The dugouts emptied and there was a little shoving, but order was quickly restored.

In basketball, players who are not in the game are thrown out for leaving the bench in that type of situation. The opposite is true in baseball. In fact, it seems players are supposed to jump up to defend their teammates. I wondered why for a minute... then it dawned on me. The offense may only have one player on the field, while the defense has nine. You can’t leave the poor batter out there all alone, so it becomes an "all hands on deck" situation. Process improvement is the same (without the shoving). You need everyone from the skipper to the bat boy to be involved.

Management Leaves the Dugout First

The truth is that many employees are cynical when it comes to business process improvement initiatives and management methodologies. They have good reason to be; most have seen projects launched with great enthusiasm, only to lose steam over time and eventually fall off the radar altogether. That’s why the introduction of the next new way to achieve operational excellence is often met with eye rolls and shrugs. Failed attempts at process improvement are very often the result of an executive team that has not fully embraced the approach or one that is unwilling to invest in the initiative’s success. In order to be successful, the C-suite must be fully bought in and must find ways to reinforce their commitment to the entire organization.

Leverage the Entire Roster

Business process improvement initiatives are also frequently derailed by a rigid top-down approach. Management says “Processes will be improved and you’ll like it!” (Gee, wonder why that doesn’t work?) Instead, involving every employee in the mission to identify targets for improvement and manage agreed upon changes creates the opportunity for lasting and continuous improvement.

After all, front line employees have a field-level view of how process execution impacts customer satisfaction, product quality, safety, spending and revenue. They are essentially a team of subject matter experts covering every aspect of your business. Not only will involving everyone improve results, it will also increase the level of employee engagement, continual improvement, and accountability.

Baseball is the only game in which the manager wears a uniform just like the players. Even though some of the older ones look a little silly, I like that. It signals that they are all committed to the same purpose and part of one whole. Approaching your business process improvement initiatives with this same attitude will increase your chance of bringing home the pennant.  

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